JAMES II. OF THE FIERY FACE—THE FALL OF
THE BLACK DOUGLASES
The gay, young William Douglas who was killed at the
Black Dinner was succeeded by his uncle James. He
was so fat, and old, and idle, that he was called Gross
James. But he did not live long, and he was succeeded
in the earldom by his son William, who was prouder and
fiercer than any of the Douglases had ever been.
The King was now growing up, and he began to
take the ruling of the kingdom into his own hands.
War again broke out between England and Scotland.
Douglas, although he was an unruly subject, was a fierce
enemy of the English. He now marched with all his
soldiers against them, and fought so well that the King
made him Lieutenant-General of Scotland. But the
Douglas became so proud and daring that King James
was obliged to take this office from him again.
Terribly angry, Douglas went to his castle, vowing to
avenge this insult. He defied the King in every way
that he could. He leagued himself with other great
lords against the King, wasting and destroying the lands
of those who would not join with him.
This was nothing but rebellion, and one gentleman
called Maclellan refused to join. Douglas at once seized
Maclellan and imprisoned him.
When the King heard of this, he was very angry, and
FALL OF THE BLACK DOUGLASES 245
at once sent Sir Patrick Grey, Maclellan‘s uncle, to
Douglas, with a letter asking him to release Maclellan.
As King, James ought to have commanded Douglas
to let Maclellan go, but the Earl was so dreadfully power
ful that the King dared not.
Sir Patrick Grey rode off with the letter as fast as he
could, and arrived at Douglas castle just as the Earl had
finished dinner. Sir Patrick wished to deliver the King‘s
letter at once, but Douglas would not take it, though he
greeted his guest with a great show of friendliness.
‘ Have you dined ? ‘ he asked.
‘ No,’ said Sir Patrick.
‘ Then you must dine first before we come to business.
It is ill talking between a full man and a fasting.’
So the Douglas called for beef and for wine, and set
before his visitor the best that his castle could provide.
Sir Patrick sat down and ate well and heartily, for
he was hungry after his long ride, and the Douglas sat
beside him talking cheerfully.
But Douglas had guessed why Sir Patrick had come.
Secretly he sent a message to his soldiers, and while
Sir Patrick dined, his nephew was led out to the green
grass beside the castle. There he was made to lay his
head upon a block, and with one blow the headsman
struck it off. Then a cloth was thrown over the dead
body and it was left there alone.
At last, after much delay, Douglas broke the seal of
the King‘s letter, and read it. He sat some time as if
thinking it over. Then, looking up, he said, ‘ I thank
you, Sir Patrick, for bearing to me this message from my
liege lord. So far as it is possible he shall be obeyed.’
Taking Sir Patrick by the hand, he led him out
to the grassy courtyard. ‘You have come a little too
late,’ he said, pointing to the dead body. ‘ There lies
246 SCOTLAND’S STORY
your nephew ; but he wants the head. Take his body
and do with it what you will.’
With a sad heart Sir Patrick replied, ‘ My lord, since
you have taken his head, dispose of his body as you please.’
Then, filled with wrath and sorrow, he called for his
horse and leaped upon it. Turning in the saddle, ‘My
lord,’ he cried in a voice shaking with anger, ‘ if I live, you
shall be well rewarded for the deed you have this day done.’
The proud Earl flushed scarlet from throat to brow.
‘ Who dares defy the Douglas in his castle ? ‘ he cried.
‘ To horse, men, to horse, and after him.’
Sir Patrick, seeing the Earl‘s fury, set spurs to his
horse and galloped hard. After him came the Douglas-
men thundering along on their mighty chargers. But Sir
Patrick’s horse was good and tried. He seemed to under
stand his master‘s danger, and he galloped as he had never
galloped before. It was a fast and furious race, and not
till the walls of Edinburgh came in sight did the Douglas-
men give it up.
Sore at heart and weary of limb, Sir Patrick made his
way to the King and told him his sad tale.
Angry and sorrowful too was the King when he heard
the news. He knew not what to do with this wild, wicked
lord. For it seemed Douglas had respect neither to King
nor crown, and the very throne was in danger.
Yet Douglas and the King had once been friends.
So at last James resolved to send for the Earl and to talk
with him kindly and calmly, and try if he could not reason
with him, and make him give up his wicked ways.
The King wrote a letter and sealed it with his great
seal, asking Douglas to come to the court at Stirling, and
promising him that his life and liberty should be safe, in
spite of all he had done. This letter was called a ‘ safe-
conduct,’ which means that it was the King’s promise to
FALL OF THE BLACK DOUGLASES 247
the Earl that no one should attack or hurt him, and that
he might safely come and go again to his own lands.
Trusting to this safe-conduct, the great Earl came,
bringing with him his five stalwart brothers, and a large
band of followers. The King received him kindly, and
gave him a fine supper, hoping by gentleness and friendli
ness to win him from his wild ways.
When supper was over, James drew Douglas aside in
order to talk with him privately. At first they both
seemed quiet and calm, but as the King urged Douglas
to give up his league with the other nobles, they both grew
hot and angry.
‘I will not break my bond for any man’s asking,’ said
Douglas insolently. Then growing more and more angry,
he poured forth a torrent of scornful words against the
James, who had a fiery temper, suddenly lost con
trol of himself. Drawing his dagger, ‘ False traitor,’ he
cried, ‘ if you will not break the bond, this shall.’ With
that he struck the Earl in the body. Sir Patrick Grey,
who stood near, remembering the threat he had made as
he rode away from castle Douglas, struck him down with
his battle-axe. Others crowded round, and soon the great
Earl lay dead with twenty-six wounds in his breast.
This was a wicked action on the King’s part, and
although it was done in a fit of passion, that was but a
poor excuse for so unkingly an act, for James had given
his word that Douglas should return safe to his own lands.
It was an act too, which did no good, but rather evil, for
the Earl had five strong brothers ready to avenge his
death. Choosing James, the eldest, as their head, they
gathered their friends and followers together. Through
the streets of the town, in scorn they dragged the King’s
safe-conduct tied to the tail of an old, broken-down cart-
248 SCOTLAND’S STORY
horse. Then, as they could not storm the castle because
it was so strong, they wasted the town with fire and
sword. Their four hundred trumpeters blew upon their
trumpets, and heralds cried to all the four winds of
heaven that never again would a Douglas acknowledge
James as King or Prince, and that they should not cease
to war against him till they were avenged upon him for
his tyranny and treachery. Again the trumpets sounded,
that all might know there was strife for ever between
the Douglas and the King.
So was a mighty rebellion kindled. All Scotland rang
with civil war. The throne seemed to tremble, and
almost at times there was doubt whether James Stewart
or James Douglas should reign in Scotland. But at the
height of its pride and splendour the Douglas fortune
began to turn. Many nobles forsook the Earl‘s banner
and joined themselves to the King. At last one morning
Douglas awoke to find his camp silent and deserted.
Of the forty thousand men that he had led out scarce one
The struggle was over. The Earl broke up what
remained of his army, and fled to hide in the wildest parts
of the Border lands, where once he had ruled as lord.
Then, with a few followers, he fled into England. Many
years later he returned to Scotland, and, old and broken,
he died a monk in the Monastery of Lindores.
Thus ended the power of the Black Douglases.
The Earl of Angus, who was himself a Douglas, had
greatly helped the King during this rebellion. Now he
was rewarded by the title of the Douglas and by much of
his land. So it was said that the Red Douglas put down
the Black. But although the Red Douglases became
famous, they never rose to such great power as the Black
Douglases had done.
FALL OF THE BLACK DOUGLASES 249
Now at last for some years the land had peace. James
ruled firmly and wisely. People began to keep the laws.
All seemed well. But alas, soon these happy days were
Although the English had long before been driven
out of Scotland, the Border castle of Roxburgh had
remained in their hands ever since the days of Edward III,
James now made up his mind to drive them out of this
last stronghold, and he laid siege to the castle.
It shows how well James had ruled his land, that all
the chieftains flocked to his aid. Even Donald, Lord-of-
the-Isles, the wildest of them all, came with his men to
help the King.
But the siege lasted long, and the soldiers began to be
weary of it, when they were cheered one morning by the
arrival of the Earl of Hunüy with a fresh army. The
King was so pleased at this that he ordered the gunners
to load the cannon and bombard the walls once more.
In those days, gunpowder had not been long in use, and
people did not know how to make good cannon. They
were made of pieces of iron, or wood, bound together.
James was standing near one of these clumsy guns, watch
ing the men fire, when it burst. Splinters flew in all
directions. One hit the King and killed him where he
So died King James n. He was only twenty-nine,
and had reigned twenty-three years. He was called
James of the Fiery Face, because he had a great red
mark on one cheek. Perhaps he may have been also
called so because he had a fiery temper, as we know he
had, from the way in which he killed Douglas. That is
the only bad thing we hear about him. Otherwise he
was a good king.
In the Duke of Roxburgh’s park at Fleurs, a hawthorn
250 SCOTLAND’S STORY
tree may still be seen which marks the spot where he
‘ But ever alas ! this king of great renown,
When he had brought his realm to great stability,
East. West, South, North, up and down,
There was nothing but peace and unity ;
Yet came there a chance most suddenly,
This potent Prince, this King of great renown,
Was murdered by a misfortunate gun.’
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